Don’t expect a White House signing ceremony to trumpet payroll tax cut deal

When President Obama signs his highly sought payroll tax cut extension into law, don’t expect to see House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) standing next to him with a smile, waiting for a ceremonial pen.

Since taking over as Speaker 13 months ago, Boehner has spent plenty of time at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. haggling with Obama over budget cuts and the debt ceiling. He’s even played a round of golf with the president.

ADVERTISEMENT
But in a sign of the bitter partisan divide, the Speaker has yet to attend a single ceremonial bill-signing at the White House. Though they amount to little more than photo-ops, the events allow a president to trumpet legislative victories large and small while rewarding key supporters and bill sponsors with a picture or a pen.

Obama held bill-signings seemingly every week during the first months of his term, as a Democratic Congress sent a steady stream of legislation across town. Yet since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, the flow of bills has thinned, and the president has chosen to sign the few measures that have reached his desk mostly in private.

When Congress and the administration agreed to spending deals in April and in August, Obama signed the bills with little fanfare, and he held no bill-signing when Congress signed off on a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut in late December.


Republican leaders are not surprised they have yet to be invited to the White House for a bill-signing. In the case of the spending deals, they, too, saw little to celebrate. Yet some have complained that Obama held no event to commemorate the bipartisan passage in September of three trade deals the GOP had long championed. And Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), among others, was miffed that Obama barely acknowledged another bipartisan accord, the reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“He signed it in the dark,” Mica said in a Friday floor speech. “He didn’t want the American people to know we succeeded.”

Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended at least two bill-signings with GOP President George W. Bush after Democrats took control of the House in 2007. One was for the passage of a far-reaching energy bill in 2007 and another was for the enactment of a modest economic stimulus package in early 2008, at a time when congressional leaders and the White House were looking for a way to show the public they could work together.

This time around, Obama has been reticent to credit Congress with doing much of anything.

Republicans say they recognize that a lavish celebratory photo-op with legislative leaders would undercut Obama’s habit of ragging on an unpopular Congress in his reelection bid.

“Since Labor Day the president has clearly been engaged in a strategy of running against Congress,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “So when we’ve had bipartisan agreements, such as the trade deals and the FAA bill, he’s chosen to pretend they didn’t happen.”

Steel said Boehner’s office had heard nothing from the White House about a possible bill-signing for the payroll tax agreement but that the Speaker would attend if he were invited to one.

Asked on Thursday whether the payroll tax deal deserved a ceremonial bill-signing event, Boehner dodged the question and downplayed the measure as a band-aid that was needed only because Obama had failed to jump-start the economy.

“Listen, this is an economic relief package because the president’s policies have not only failed, they’ve actually made the economy worse,” Boehner said. “If we were doing policies like those that we’ve passed and sent over to the Senate, there’d be no need for this type of economic relief package.”

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.), hailed the passage of the payroll tax cut extension as “definitely a victory for the president,” but said she didn’t know if a ceremonial bill-signing would be held.

And she suggested the president’s campaign against Congress would not prevent him from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Boehner.

“I don’t think there’s any indication that the president wouldn’t want to be seen with the Speaker,” Wasserman-Schultz said.

During a speech Friday in Washington state, Obama praised Congress for doing “the right thing” in approving the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

“It’s a big deal. And I want to thank Congress for listening to the voices of the American people,” Obama said. “It’s amazing what Congress can accomplish when they focus on doing the right thing instead of playing politics.”

Obama said he will sign the payroll tax bill “right away” upon returning to D.C., but the White House has not announced whether it will invite members of Congress to attend the bill-signing.

— Amie Parnes contributed.